- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Despite dropping oil prices and increased pressure to bridle spending, some North Dakota lawmakers have not given up on the idea of building a new $5 million governor’s residence on the state Capitol grounds.

The move to replace the prairie-style brick home built for North Dakota’s first family 55 years ago has become one of the most debated issues of the legislative session.

“It’s become a political football,” said Rep. Ron Guggisberg, D-Fargo. “Absolutely, there is a need for it but with all the projects that are being sidelined, to pick this one before those is bad timing.”

Lawmakers have been attempting to replace the current dwelling for years, saying it is has security issues, is not accessible for wheelchair users and likely contains lead paint, asbestos and mold. It still has shag carpeting, linoleum flooring and 1970s-style appliances, despite a major renovation that was completed in 2000.

“The home should have been replaced 25 years ago,” said Rep. Jim Kasper, who has vowed to keep the measure alive despite a do-not-pass recommendation by the House Appropriations Committee. “This should not be a political issue. This is about the safety of our governor.”

Leaders from both parties sponsored a Senate bill early in the session that would have appropriated $5 million to tear down the old governor’s residence and build a new one. With declining oil revenue, the Senate decided against funding the project and decided to study the idea instead. The House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, which Kasper chairs, revived the measure after taking a tour of the residence last month. The new House version would require that $1 million of the cost be raised from private sources.

Revenue from four oil wells where the state owns mineral rights would be used to build the new residence. The state money would come from a fund reserved solely for improvements to the Capitol grounds.

Kasper said one sticking point with the measure was having lawmakers oversee the building of the project. He said the measure will be amended to appoint unelected state officials to monitor the construction.

“What do we know about planning a governor’s mansion?” Guggisberg said. Even with lawmakers out of the planning picture, Guggisberg said he and many others likely won’t support the idea.

The home is the second official residence that has been built for North Dakota’s governors. The original Governor’s Mansion, built in 1884, is located a few blocks south of the Capitol.

Gov. Jack Darlymple has not endorsed the idea of a new residence. Some lawmakers have said that that no governor would endorse building a new residence out of fear of criticism for being self-serving.

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